Glimpsing the Historical Jesus

Since I am a follower of Christ and the season of Lent is upon us, I plan to post several  writings on the topic of  “Jesus, Resister.”   In them, I will show how the stories of Jesus’ life, teachings, and death can illuminate our path through the great social, economic, and environmental challenges of our day.

I understand why people distance themselves from Christianity, especially in its most close-minded and virulent forms.  But Christ is my home, and I refuse to abandon the symbols of my faith to those who distort them.

For the past two thousand years Christians have interpreted and assigned meaning to the stories of Jesus’ life, death, and post-death appearances.  Some claim to have the answers to “what the Bible says” and what people should believe, but the Bible does not present a clear, harmonious picture of the historical Jesus.  Each of the four gospels has its own unique perspective, sometimes complementing and sometimes contradicting the others, because the gospels are written not as history but as faith accounts of what each author remembered and understood.

Although scholars have shed light on some aspects of his life and the world in which he lived, it is impossible to uncover a universally accepted or objective picture of who Jesus of Nazareth was.  We glimpse him through various lenses—artistic, literary, cultural, religious.  For people who follow him, even more than for the gospel writers, Jesus is a figure we come to know through faith.

To understand his relevance in addressing the grave challenges of today, we need to explore the social, economic, and political context in which Jesus lived, and examine his relationship with the institutional Powers of his day. As we do, we meet the Jesus who modeled the compassionate nonviolent resistance practiced by Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.  And we discover a way to live in hope and bring about a more hopeful future, in the presence and grace of God.

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